School Principals Unintentional Tort Liability


SchoolPrincipals Unintentional Tort Liability

SchoolPrincipals’ Unintentional Tort Liability

Schoolsare supposed to be secure and safe places where students learn andthe educators teach. The court doctrines hold that teachers areprofessional workers who act in the place of parents. Consequently,it is the teachers’ duty to supervise the students placed undertheir care, and ensure the student’s safety to the greatest extentpossible. The doctrine is meant to assure parents that the childrenare out of harm`s way and under the care of professional adults(Elder, 1983).

The court policy places afavourable duty to all the certified teachers to undertake all thenecessary measures that ensure a safe and secure school environmentfor the students. Specifically, the court doctrine assigns threeduties to the teachers under the loco parentis (in place of theteachers). The duties entail to instruct, supervise, and ensure thesafety of the students. Although the law understands the littleexpectation that students will never get injured in schools, itrequires the school personnel to exercise proper care and ensure thatthere are enough measures to protect students from harm (Alexander &ampAlexander, 2012).

Atort is an actionable civil wrong that is committed by one personagainst another. In the case of schools, liability charges do occurin the event of injury caused by the actions of school personnel.Such costs may occur due to deliberate acts committed by the schoolpersonnel or due to negligence. Consequently, students that incurinjuries caused by school staff are entitled to claim for monetarydamages resulting from either intentional or unintentional torts(Gee, Daniel, &amp Goldstein, 2009).

Thelaw holds school personnel liable for their tortious acts within theschool environment. The two classes of liability are intentional andunintentional torts. Intentional torts entail assault, libel,slander, battery and defamation. Such torts require proof of intentor the wilfulness of the personnel. In contrast, unintentional tortdoes not require evidence of intent or wilfulness. However, in bothcases, the court determines liability from the facts of the case.Specifically, the law gauges the actions of the school personnel todetermine if their actions were improper or if they failed to actappropriately in situations that involved students (Alexander &ampAlexander, 2012).Although the teacher’s liability extends to theintentional torts, most legal actions brought against teachers belongto the theory of negligence. According to the Law, negligence is thelack of taking a standard action that an average prudent individualwould take when in a similar situation (Elder, 1983).

Ina classroom context, there are four elements of negligence. Thefirst component aims at establishing the teacher’s obligation tothe students. The teacher has an obligation to undertake reasonableeducational instruction as well as supervision to maintain a learningenvironment is free from obvious hazards. The second element entailsdetermining whether the teacher breached their duty. A teacher’sliability for unintentional tort depends on whether the teacher canforesee dangers under the prevailing circumstances. It is, however,agreeable that teachers cannot guarantee absolute student safety.Consequently, the teachers are required to predict the most likelyhazard within the learning environment based on their actions. Thethird element entails determining whether the teacher undertook thenecessary precautionary measures to reduce the incidence of injury(Alexander &amp Alexander, 2012).

Thefourth part aims at establishing the relationship between theteacher’s failure to take preventive actions and the cause of harmto the student. Teachers are expected to take precautionary measuresto provide safe learning environments. The teacher is hence liablefor damages due to his/ her failure to predict possible risks inadvance upon the materialization of harm. (Gee, Daniel, &ampGoldstein, 2009).

Thefollowing is a case between Flanagan and Canton Central SchoolDistrict, (Flanagan v. Canton Central School District). After a deepconsideration of the defendant and the plaintiff, the court observedthat school personnel are obliged to conduct adequate supervision tostudents however, the school does not serve as an insurer of thestudent’s safety. The school is only held responsible forforeseeable injuries that are sustained by their pupils. The chargesqualify if enough evidence is provided to indicate negligence due toinadequate supervision. The court agreed to the argument by Flanaganthat the students’ violent behaviour during the day served asenough sign to the teacher that there was need for closer supervisionof the students. In addition, the court agreed that the student’spossible behaviour was easy to foresee and take precautionary action.(Alexander &amp Alexander, 2012)

Thefacts date back to October 2004. Brendan Flanagan used to school as a fifth-grade schoolboy at the Canton Middle School. On thatparticular day, Flanagan was participating in a gym class. Theteacher to the gym class noticed that the students were getting outof control and rowdy. The incident happened in the last five minutesof the gym class where the students are allowed to change theirattires. In the specific session, the teacher stopped the classearlier so that she could lecture on the significance of followingdirections to the students during the gym activities (Elder, 1983).

Theteacher had sent Flanagan and his peers to the locker room so theycould change their gym attires before commencing of the next class.While in the locker room, Flanagan was pushed from behind by acolleague. Flanagan fell between a locker and a bench and sustainedseveral severe injuries that led into an emergency splenectomy.Although the teachers are required to follow the students into thelocker room to change, the teacher remained into the gymnasium duringthe incident for approximately five minutes. Upon Flanagan’srecovery, and based on the events, Flanagan’s mother sued theCanton Central School district. The parent claimed that Flanagan’sinjury was due to the negligent supervision of the teacher (Alexander&amp Alexander, 2012).

Thephysical education instructor admitted that the most important partof ensuring the student’s safety is by enhancing the supervision oftheir actions. The teacher also admitted that it was important tosupervise the students in the locker room since her presence wouldhave detected the misbehaviour. Besides, her absence in the lockerroom increased the potential for misbehaviour. The court also notedthat there was more chance for misbehaviour in the locker roomcompared to the gymnasium. The P.E teacher also acknowledged that thelast five minutes of the physical education class are for thestudents to change. The teacher provided that she opted to remain inthe gymnasium to lecture to the students as they were getting out ofcontrol (Alexander &amp Alexander, 2012).

Theprincipal argument in the case was whether the teachers lack tosupervise the students while in the locker room was a majorcontributor to the injuries. It was also argued whether the violentnature of the students was an indicator, enough to enable the teacherforesee the incident and consequently infuse more precautionarymeasures inform of supervision in the locker room (Alexander &ampAlexander, 2012).

Thedecision made in the case stipulated that searching for negligence isa case-by-case exercise. The determination of negligence occursthrough the application of ‘a reasonable man standard’ to the setof facts presented in any given situation. Consequently, the courtasks the question, “What would a reasonable person have done or notdone?” In the above case, the teacher indicated that she was givinga lecture to the rest of the students on the importance of listeningto instructions in a physical education class (Gee,Daniel, &amp Goldstein, 2009).&nbsp

Consequently,her failure to supervise the students in the locker room does notequate to absenteeism. Besides, in a school setting, theadministrators and teachers are not the insurers of the safety oftheir students. Consequently, they may only be charged withreasonable care similar to that likely to be undertaken by a prudentparent under comparable circumstances. Besides, the teachers can onlybe held accountable, responsible and liable for things that areforeseeable. More so, the teacher’s absence from the locker roomdoes not present a justifiable proximate cause to the incident(Alexander &amp Alexander, 2012).

Thelaw of torts has evolved with time. Traditionally, several defenceswere available to the boards of public schools, teachers andadministrators in suits for negligence. Some of the defences includedthe assumption of risk and contributory negligence similar to thecase of sovereign immunity. The state law extended the shield toschool boards for all policy decisions in the absence of wanton andwilful conduct. In the recent years, the immunity from negligent tortactions has been extended from school boards to the systemadministrators, teachers and even the school bus drivers. Nowadays,the school boards while drafting the school board policy considersuch immunities (Elder, 1983).

Asa rule, where the state law fails to abolish government immunity forschool boards, the school officials are responsible for assertingthis defence in the absence of evidence of malice or intent to injuresomeone. The immunities currently extend to the teachers undervarious provisions which are:1. That the teachers act within theirscope of employment policies. 2. The teachers exercise professionaljudgement and discretion. 3. The teachers avoid gross negligence(Alexander &amp Alexander, 2012).

Thechange in defences has led to additional policy implications. First,due to the defences available to the school personnel, there is aminimal oversight in schools and various school-sponsored events. Theschools ensure that there are no injuries caused by unreasonablerisks that are sustained by student, visitor, staff or parent in theschool or during their turnout at a school event. Consequently, theschools avoid injuries that emanate from unreasonable or unnecessaryrisks caused by negligent acts of the school officials, teachers,administrators or staff members. Following the change, the publicschools boards provided that in cases where negligence is observed asthe proximate cause of injury, the officials of the school should beheld personally liable for the harm caused to the injured person(Gee, Daniel, &amp Goldstein, 2009).

Consequently,the change in liability for torts has influenced public schools invarious ways including their policy reviews. First, the publicschools board are obliged to install and maintain healthy and safeeducational environments. The healthy environments should be assuredin every school building and in events sponsored by the school.

itis the responsibility of the public school boards to install andmaintain safe and healthy educational environments in every schoolbuilding and during every school sponsored event (Alexander &ampAlexander, 2012).

Second, the public schooladministrators, system personnel and teachers are required tofunction as a safety team. It is their duty to report all unsafe andhazardous conditions to the supervisory personnel. Third, thechanges in defences have led to immediate steps being undertaken toremedy dangerous and hazardous conditions reported to the supervisorypersonnel. Finally, teachers, administrators and other staff arerequired to conduct due diligence and care while planning andexecuting their responsibilities with students (Elder, 1983).


Alexander,K., &amp Alexander, M. D. (2012).&nbspAmericanpublic school law.Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Elder,D. A. (1983).&nbspKentuckytort law: Defamation and the right of privacy.Charlottesville, VA: Michie.

Gee,E. G., Daniel, P. T., &amp Goldstein, S. R. (2009).&nbspLawand public education: Cases and materials.Newark, NJ: LexisNexis Matthew Bender.